Conversation With… a humanitarian in South Sudan

 

This humanitarian and modern-day heroine works to educate on and attend to those who have been traumatized by gender-based violence (GBV) in South Sudan. She herself is a woman from another African country.

Salute to the many who sacrifice much and risk their lives to alleviate the trauma of those who suffer in areas of conflict.

 

What led you to take on this humanitarian role?

I took this role as part my of humanitarian obligation and ethical contribution towards addressing the needs of vulnerable women and girls during emergencies, as it’s known that in conflict and displacement, women and children, both boys and girls, suffer the most.

What was the biggest surprise for you when you started this work?

The biggest surprise was the high level of violence and suffering. In an acute situation, women often flee to safety with almost nothing as they must concentrate on ensuring that they have their children. Sadly, in the process many lose children. Both the parent and the child experience a lot of trauma when forcibly separated by war.

It is very unsafe to leave a protection site to track missing children or parents as there will be armed groups all over the place. There is practically no mobile communication with the outside world in the initial stages of displacement except through humanitarian agencies who focus on family tracing.

Another big surprise for me was the real extent of sexual violence experienced by women and girls. Rape is used as a weapon of war. Women are sometimes raped when they go to fetch firewood or collect water or even when they leave protected areas simply to work. Some women brew alcohol as a livelihood which puts them at high risk as most of the displaced males are idle, spend the day drinking and when drunk, perpetrate these acts of violence.  More than half of reported GBV incidents are of intimate partner violence indicating the high stress levels among couples; children are affected indirectly. Men and boys also experience sexual violence.

Unfortunately, few seek help as the violation of women and girls is perceived as acceptable due to cultural stereotyping. Permission is needed from a male to go to a clinic or there is a requirement to explain their condition to the whole family first. If they don’t accept or understand that a violation has taken place, then what’s the point. Then on top of that, the victims are ostracized. As such, there is a lot of under-reporting in seeking healthcare and psychosocial support.

 In a place like South Sudan where there are so many needs, where do you start?

Emergency responses are very well coordinated, and a lot of planning is put in place before responding. Each agency focuses on its area of expertise, but there are inter-agency efforts. The first step is to inform the community of the services available, where to access them and that they’re free.  Some community-based staff then assist in identifying people with special needs for further assistance but for the general population, it’s about giving them the information they need to make informed decisions without pressure.

 Can you share a moment which moved you?

There are so many moments that have and that also made me reflect on some of the things I take for granted. There was a 9-year-old child that shared his story of seeing his mother beheaded and his younger sister burnt. Yet this boy was still able to hope for a better future and became a team leader for his play group. The child has now relocated to another part of the country to join a foster family.

What progress have you seen in your time in the Sudan?

Tangible progress has been made. The level of awareness has increased; women and girls have started to realize their rights and are starting to raise their voices for redress. For example, there is now advocacy to end child marriage all over the country.

The reporting of GBV cases to clinics or other institutions has increased and indicates that the message has created an impact where women and girls are seeking help.

The services provided have been appreciated and acknowledged by the community, e.g., family tracing and reunification. More girls are being sent to school and they are participating in skills development activities set up especially for women and girls.

 You must be frightened at times. How do you deal with the fear?   

The training on safety you undergo as you enter this line of work helps you, but you get the greatest inspiration from the people you serve. If they are enduring this level of hardship day in day out, you then appreciate your position because you can opt out when the going gets tough. The interaction with the community helps you to create a positive and resilient coping mechanism. In addition, most agencies have staff counsellors to support you.

The presence of humanitarian agencies in an area is sometimes a deterrent to some attacks. Evacuation plans are activated when necessary to save lives of staff. The converse though is that some humanitarian workers have died because of attacks specifically targeting them.

In memory of St Josephine Bahkita, Patron Saint of victims of trafficking. She was born into a well-to-do family in Sudan in 1869 and abducted by Arab slave traders at the age of 7. She was sold and resold many times and was abused and tortured in her 12 years as a slave. She eventually was sold to an Italian Vice Consul who took her to Italy where she became a Canossian Religious Sister until her death on February 8th 1947.

Josephine Bakhita

Image courtesy of: https://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=5601

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Conversation With…Beritha Muzondo, Teacher and Founder of VOW/Women of Valiance

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Beritha

VOW/Women of Valiance was founded in 2017 by school-teacher, mother and wife, Beritha Muzondo, to bring women together to support education in Zimbabwe. In 2017, she hosted the 1st VOW High Tea at Woburn Sculpture Park, Bedfordshire which raised just over £1 400 for Kandava Primary School, Seke Rural, Zimbabwe.

This year, VOW will host another fundraiser, a Ladies Luncheon, on Saturday July 14th2018 at Whittleberry Hall, Towcester, Northampton.

 

 

What’s the inspiration behind VOW?

Well, over the past 4-5 years, I had always been sending school supplies, whenever I could, to Rakodzi High School in my home country Zimbabwe. One year, I collected and donated around 300 library books.

Believe me when I tell you that back in my day this school was one of the best schools there was. This was in Marondera, a high-density area. The head teacher was Australian, most of the teachers were ex-pats and it was well-resourced. But when I went back a few years ago, things were not the same, in fact far from it. I thought, if a school like this with so many donors is in this situation, what about a school with no donors.

A school that came to mind that I knew had little support was Kandava Primary School. One year, during a visit to my family homestead in the rural area, as I was driving through, I saw some children going to school without shoes or uniforms. I thought to myself that I could start with buying uniforms.

I decided to shelve Rakodzi as a lot of people were already supporting them, then focused on Kandava Primary. I asked Kandava if they had orphans and they gave me a list of 120 children. That was way too much for me, so, I asked them to prioritise the children in order of need and I went away and started thinking of ideas to fundraise.

What made you think of a high tea event?

I like to plan events and I plan them well. I bounced ideas from others and a high tea event came out on top.

The venue for last year’s event was exquisite! How did you find it?

I like nice things! And we all deserve nice things. What was important was to make the event memorable, so I wanted a venue that was different, unique, elegant and would allow people to dress up. I wanted people to feel that they were doing something truly wonderful and the surroundings had to inspire that feeling.

Last year’s event featured great speakers and that awesome auction! What can supporters and guests expect this year?

This year it  will again be an inspirational, dynamic and fun-filled event. People really enjoyed meeting each other so this year there will be more time for interaction and networking. There are going to be some dynamic speakers as there were last year and with more audience participation.

For you, what was great about the VOW2017 High Tea?

What was wonderful was that so many supported the event and were so generous with their donations. Tickets were sold out and in the end 196 guests attended. In fact, so far, a lot of last year’s guests already have tickets for this year’s event. The one thing they had to do was bring stationery, books and pens and everyone did. With the ticket sales and the luxury auction held on the day, we raised just over £1 400. This bought uniforms, shoes and paid school fees for 20 children at 2 schools – Kandava Primary and Muchakata Primary. Although the event was not formally sponsored, many gave cash donations.

Beritha Kids

The theme last year was ‘Stop Saying I Can’t and Start Saying I Will’. What’s the theme for this year’s event?

This year’s theme is ‘Starve Your Distractions and Feed Your Focus’. It’s important that guests come away feeling inspired in the same way they are inspiring our young people through their generosity.

What opportunities are there for people to get involved and contribute?

We do have sponsorship packages which include time for sponsors do a short presentation about their business. Sponsors can also be anonymous if they prefer!

What would you like guests to donate this year?

This year we ask guests to bring stationery and books again, as well as clothing which of course must be in good condition. We would also like people to sponsor a child which costs £100 per year. Imagine that £100 can support a child at school for a whole year including fees and uniforms. In fact, last year, one guest sponsored not just one child, but the entire family.

What’s the fundraising target amount for 2018?

This year we aim to raise £5 000 to build a borehole for Kandava Primary.

 

For more information on VOW Ladies Luncheon 2018, contact: info@valiant-women.co.uk

For tickets, contact 07979091582, 07850089572 or purchase via website at: http://valiant-women.co.uk/

Tickets cost £50pp and include a 3-course lunch with tea and coffee

Follow VOW Annual Ladies Luncheon on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/womenofvaliance/

If you are not able to attend but would like to donate to the cause, please contact: info@valiant-women.co.uk